By JR on Thursday, January 19, 2012
Why would people go and buy something that they can get elsewhere for free? Lots of Australians spend big on private health insurance despite Australia's "free" (taxpayer-funded) hospitals because they know how poor bureaucratically-controlled healthcare can be. Three current articles on that below
"Free" hospital treatment not so free if they refuse to treat you
Brisbane pensioner Merv McLean furious after waiting more than 15 years for cataract surgery only to receive letter urging him to have surgery done privately
A BRISBANE pensioner waited more than 15 years to get his cataracts treated only to receive a letter urging him to have the surgery done privately. Retired public servant Merv McLean is furious after being told by the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital he had been dumped from the list because his condition was considered "non-urgent".
And he's not alone. In what doctors see as an affront to Queensland's free public health system, The Courier-Mail has obtained two letters sent by the RBWH to patients requiring cataract surgery telling them to go elsewhere.
Mr McLean has accused the hospital of giving him false hope, and robbing him of years of quality of life. "If I had known they were going to tell me to get lost I could have had the surgery 10 or 15 years ago," said Mr McLean, 75.
Australian Medical Association state president Richard Kidd described the Queensland Health strategy as "penny wise and pound foolish". "There are a number of studies from around the world that have shown that cataract surgery, if you do that in a timely way, you prevent over 30 per cent of the falls that people would otherwise have," Dr Kidd said.
Mr McLean, a former education department administration officer from Brookfield in Brisbane's west, said he had to wait nine years just to get on the waiting list for cataract surgery. He said he was staggered to get a letter last November from the hospital's executive director, David Alcorn.
"The length of the waiting list has meant we have not been able to provide this appointment for you," the letter said, suggesting he consider "alternative management options" with his doctor, optometrist or ophthalmologist.
The Courier-Mail has obtained a copy of a similar letter sent to another patient around the same time. Mr McLean is now having the cataracts removed privately. He said the surgery will cost him nearly $4000 - even with a pensioner discount. He complained to his local member Bruce Flegg (LNP, Moggill) who said Mr McLean had been treated appallingly.
Dr Alcorn said patients who urgently needed treatment received priority.
Victorian woman forced to fly 400km to give birth after hospital turns her away
PREGNANT women in rural Victoria are being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to give birth because of a shortage of hospital beds. A Mildura mother was yesterday forced to fly to Bendigo after she was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital because there was no room for her.
It comes as the Herald Sun revealed today a baby boom had put pressure on hospital maternity wards.
Martine Fletcher gave birth to twin boys Lachy and Thomas this morning in Bendigo, more than 400km from her Red Cliffs home. Mrs Fletcher's mother, Susan van Steenis, said it was the second time her daughter had been turned away from the hospital. Ms van Steenis said her daughter was turned away from Mildura Base Hospital about 8am yesterday morning because the nursery was full.
She said after discussions with hospital staff her daughter, and son-in-law Toby, were taken by air ambulance to Bendigo. "It is absolutely ridiculous, this is twice it’s happened now," she told the Herald Sun this morning. "There's six beds in there. For a regional hospital in a place the size of Mildura. It’s totally inadequate," she said.
Ms van Steenis, herself a theatre nurse, said her daughter was flown to Adelaide during her first pregnancy three years ago where she gave birth to twin daughters, Bella and Romy. "It’s simply appaling."
She said her daughter had been left "absolutely distraught" by the ordeal. "She’s got two little girls here who are missing her, and we don’t know how long it will be until she can come home," she said.
Mildura Base Hospital chief Dane Huxley said the decision to fly Mrs Fletcher out was made in her best interests. “The clinical advice I had was that it wouldn’t be wise to keep her in our hospital,” he said.
“We have a six-bed special care nursery, last week it was almost empty, this week for whatever reason it was full. “If you put too many babies in special care nursery it does become dangerous and you have to make a decision on what is best for the patients. “You don’t want a specal care nursery that is full."
Mr Huxley said the incident was not indicative that there was a hospital bed crisis.
52% of Australians flee public hospitals
MORE THAN half of Australians now have private health insurance - and the insurance industry is reaping the benefits, boosting its revenue from premiums by more than $1.25 billion last financial year.
According to the Private Health Insurance Administration Council's annual report, the gap between insurers' revenue, which totalled $15.4 billion last year, and insurance payouts is widening, with increases in premiums in some cases outstripping inflation.
The Gillard government has seized on the revenue figures to argue 30 per cent health insurance rebate should be means-tested, which could save the budget up to $2.4 billion.
Legislation to strip high-income earners of the 30 per cent rebate on their private insurance has twice been rejected in Parliament, but the government's chances of a third effort succeeding received a massive boost in December when Labor secured an extra vote in the House of Representatives with the resignation of Harry Jenkins as Speaker.
With the votes of Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MP Andrew Wilkie in hand, Labor only needs the support of just one more crossbenchers. West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook has indicated he could support the bill, saying he was open to further discussions with the government.
The report showed that 52 per cent of Australians have general private health insurance and 45.4 per cent have private hospital cover. The latter exempts the policyholder from paying the Medicare surcharge of 1.5 per cent of income and guarantees the rebate.
According to Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, that is placing a massive strain on the scheme's financial position.
Means-testing the private health insurance rebate would affect 2.4 million health fund members, stripping individuals earning more than $80,000 a year and families earning more than $160,000 of the right to claim the tax break.
According to Treasury modelling, almost 8 million private health insurance policyholders would not be affected by the changes.
Ms Plibersek said it was not fair for ordinary workers to pay for the health cover of the wealthy. "Because the private health insurance industry is in a strong financial position, it is not appropriate for lower and middle-income Australians to be subsidising the health insurance of millionaires," she said."And while the industry grows, so does the cost to taxpayers of the private health insurance rebate - so that if we don't act now, the rebate will deprive the wider Australian health system of $100 billion over the next 40 years."
The report showed that while the industry's revenue stream from premiums grew by 8.8 per cent, benefits paid out to members only increased by 7.6 per cent.
Private health insurance incentives were introduced in 1997 to encourage Australians to take out insurance policies to support the struggling sector.
The rebate is now one of the most expensive and fastest growing areas of the health budget and is projected to cost taxpayers about $5 billion in 2011-12.
Treasury modelling estimates also showed that, if the changes to the private insurance rebate were to come into effect, 99.7 per cent of people would remain in some form of private cover as a result of the incentives of Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare levy surcharge.